As Russia continues its recently launched military campaign in Syria, many experts speculate about the real goals the Kremlin aims to achieve in the region and what might this effort lead to with regard to the situation in Syria, regional stability, and the domestic security of Russia itself.
The new Russia Direct report “Russia’s New Strategy in the Middle East” strives to answer these questions by bringing together the opinions from not only Russia, but also the U.S. and even Australia and Israel. Discussing the most pressing issues facing Russia in the ME, it becomes evident that the majority of the experts agree on many of the problems. This, in turn, might be a good start for decision-makers to find a common ground to resolving the variety of geopolitical, security, domestic and economic questions urgent for the development of the region. If experts see eye-to-eye, why cannot policymakers?
Irina Zvyagelskaya, professor and chief researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, provides an overview of the current turbulent situation in the Middle East in order to explain why Russia has joined forces with Syria, Iraq and Iran in the fight against terrorism.
One of the main points here is that, for Moscow, the threats arising from the Middle East are not only an issue of foreign policy, but also of domestic policy: the policy of regime change, the potential recruitment of Russian citizens to ISIS security threats on Russia’s southern borders – all these present a significant challenge that comes from the Middle Eastern states.
Maxim Schukov, associate professor at Pyatigorsk State Linguistic University’s School of International Relations, also finds these reasons quite urgent for Russia. He points out the close bond between the Islamic State and the Caucasus Emirate organization that operates along Russia’s southern borders. Suchkov, more importantly, gives an overview of three main perceptions that helped shape Russia’s decision-making in the Middle East and explains why it is premature to presume that Russia is eroding U.S. influence in the region.
Elaborating on what America’s role with regard to the conflict in Syria might be, Michael Kofman, a fellow at the Kennan Institute and analyst at CNA Corporation, suggests that the Kremlin will still need U.S. support in the end to contain the consequences of the Russian campaign in Syria and settle the conflict with other parties involved. Therefore, the U.S. might well stay engaged as a player in the conflict and be there when Russia “inevitably needs a way out.”
In an interview featured in the report, another American expert specializing on terrorism and intelligence studies – Gordon Hahn – talks in more detail about the potential risks the campaign in Syria might bring for Russia. While explaining why Syria shouldn’t be considered the next Afghanistan for Moscow, Hahn also notes that some kind of cooperation between Russia and the U.S. might be effective, especially if there were “a division of labor with Russia’s coalition focusing on Syria and the U.S. coalition focusing on Iraq.”
Other experts also seem to share this belief. Building on their analyses of Russia’s motives and risks emerging as a result of its involvement in Syria, former Australian diplomat Ian Parmeter and Israeli professor Eyal Zisser warn that the campaign in the region raises stakes for Moscow and might potentially drag Russia into “a protracted and violent domestic struggle.”